This has been an amazing year. I have started a blog, joined Twitter and have met some amazing people. And BlogHer Food 2009 is going to be held in my town! Best of all, many of the great people I have been “tweeting” with are attending BlogHer and I get to meet them in person!
What are the odds that all these great things happening within a few months? It is synchronicity at its finest!
So, in anticipation of the conference, a dear friend suggested I compile my favorite foodie spots in town for the visiting attendees of BlogHer.
Living in San Francisco I am often asked where do I like to go to eat. What a question! It is truly baffling how to respond because no matter how many places I go, it seems like Hydra’s head, I knock one place off my list and hundreds more pop up. I want to try them all, to become a regular there, to move into their kitchens and never leave. But that dang practicality rears its little voice to whisper in my ear, “you can’t eat out every meal, your pots and pans would miss you, you cat would miss you, your bank will seek you out and make you photocopy and sweep to pay them back!” Ah me, wouldn’t it be nice to never have a budget and have all the time in the world to do what you love? Oh yes, we do have that, it is called the Lottery and who knows, I may win one day, or get hit by lightning – the odds are higher for the latter actually!!
Given the restraints of reality and practicality, I do have to limit myself a bit and just focus on what I love, and in my city I do have a few beloved places. Anyone can recommend Boulevard, Michael Mina, Gary Danko, A16 (before Nate left), Quince, Incanto, Nopa. All amazing and delectable places to be true. But as an average person with an average budget and an elevated palate I like places where I can get amazing food, great and personal service and a neighborhood feel. San Francisco really is a compilation of neighborhoods with their own feel and flavor, and these are my neighborhood favorites:
1) Swan Oyster Depot. If I could have lunch there every day I would. It’s a simple place. Stomach growling you wait in line watching people eat off an ancient skinny marble counter, perched on metal-legged wooden seat stools, served by a bantering crew of fathers, sons, cousins and pals who have been there since “back in the day”. Their seafood is impeccably fresh and mostly local, they have Anchor Steam on tap, the bread is San Francisco’s finest and their horseradish and Louie sauce are almost as good as mine. I have been going there since high school, when ever I could scrape up enough money. I could easily eat my weight in shrimp and oysters there.
map 1517 Polk Street, within walking distance of BlogHer
(photo courtesy of howie221 on flickr)
2) Unabashedly a carnivore, I love The House of Prime Rib. This is my family’s special occasion restaurant. The service is always great, the prime rib is perfection, as is the table-side tossed salad, creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, fresh hot bread and a gigantic baked potato I never touch until the next day. You can get seconds. Yes, seconds, if you can possibly eat that much. The 49ers eat here, and one night a year the owner matches pound for pound all the beef our boys eat and donates that to a local shelter. Peter and Chris, the bartenders, are great family friends. My parents would go there every Thursday night for a cocktail before choir practice and most often I would join them. Over the years we would have Vitamin V Gibsons, then Cosmos, and now Knob Creek Manhattans and catch up on life while snacking on cocktail crackers and refilling our glasses from our personal shaker of elixir. Those were happy days and I still have a happy hour there now and again solo and gaze at the giant silver Contact capsule filled with beef and dream of ordering dinner.
(Photo courtesy of www.foodlibrarian.com, May 2009)
3) The Ferry Building. What can I say? The restored Ferry Building is a foodie mecca. On Saturdays outside is a mob scene of chefs, home cooks, families, and miscellaneous random people all on the hunt for super fresh local food, drink and atmosphere. It is right on the bay sandwiched between views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Ferry Building with all its history and the looming spine of downtown. Inside, it’s like walking in a food porn dream. Miette bakery, the Slanted Door, caviar and champagne, gelato, Blue Bottle coffee, the amazing Boccalone, farm stands, golden olive oils, Cowgirl cheeses, Acme bread, chocolates! Wines! Fish and oysters!! Gadgets & garden goodies! It just goes on and on! Go early, go hungry, go with a full wallet. The Ferry Building will fill your belly, dazzle your eyes, empty your bank account and full your arms with foodie treasures.
4) Molinari’s Deli on Colombus. These guys are the real deal. Old school Italian guys whose sole purpose in life is to make salami and ravioli and then sell them to you earnestly, while helping you plan your dinner. So do you need sugo? Cheese? Prosciutto? Olives? Bread? A little salad or something? I used to walk there at lunchtime from my corporate gig on Market Street, order a groaning ciabatta filled with red peppers, provalone, prosciutto or salami, and an Italian sparkling limonata, hike up Coit Tower and munch on the top of the world. Brushing off crumbs from my lap, fending off tourists and pigeons I’d wend my way down the secret staircases back to the cool canyons of the Financial District to finish off the day, belly full and legs stretched.
map 373 Columbus Avenue (North Beach, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)
(photo courtesy of carlosyashinon on flickr)
5) Victoria Pastry Company in North Beach. This is a wonderful traditional Italian bakery with a delicious history. They fill their canoli fresh while you wait. That is, by the way, one of the true secrets to a perfect canoli. Well, there are a few other secrets to canoli, I could write a novelette on that alone. The St. Honore cake is my all time special-occasion cake. I had one for my birthday this year. A layer of flaky pastry, sponge cake, pastry cream, then whipped cream, topped with a wreath of pastry cream stuffed puffs, rosettes of cream and cherries. Ahhh. Just walking in and seeing the cases full of amazing cookies, pastries and the sharp tang of good espresso in the air make my knees weak.
map 1362 Stockton Street http://www.victoriapastry.com/ (North Beach, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)
6) Zarzuela for tapas. I used to live on the same block as this wonderful haven for small plates of lovingly prepared authentic tapas. Having to walk by Zarzuela every night knowing I wasn’t having dinner inside was the worst torture. Often I would stop in even before they opened to say hello and chat. Many times I would run downstairs and order a few things to go, they would invite me to share a glass of fino sherry with them, I would get home to find they doubled my order of gambas al ajillo. I am not ashamed to say that when I go there for dinner, I order myself a sizzling cast iron skillet of gambas al ajillo just for myself. Back off, it’s mine… Their crab bisque is so creamy, beautiful and chunky with crab, and yet not a drop of cream is used. Their gazpacho is heaven, I will even eat octopus there. Over 16 years and two boyfriends have come and gone but Zarzuela is always it for me.
map 2000 Hyde Street (Russian Hill, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)
(photo courtesy of slowpoke_sf on flickr)
7) Giorgio’s on Clement (pizza and calzone). Although not as many as in New York, the pizza places in San Francisco run rampant. Ask a dozen people their favorite pizza place and you will hear a dozen answers. I have been visiting Giorgio’s for pizza since high school. I braved the bus and fog to get here, their sausage and mushroom pizza is the best I have ever had. Their calzone are amazing. Their antipasto salad is really basic and I swear they use Wishbone dressing but it just tastes so good. Now this place has seen it all in my life, boys, men, friends, parents, visiting friends, whoever I take along loves their pizza, doesn’t mind the wait and everyone loves the jukebox and the cheesey raffia covered bottles and fake grapes hanging from the ceiling.
(photo courtesy of Nick Sherman on flickr)
8 ) Japantown for sushi, ramen and crepes. I know, there are many beautiful places to get amazing sushi in town. Sushi Groove, Sushi Raw, Godzilla, Shimo’s out in the Richmond, all great places. But I love sitting elbow to elbow with a Japanese family, munching fresh nigri in 31 flavors, or slurping udon or ramen that was made fresh that morning (but only if I remembered to wear a black tee that day because of the soup-splatter factor). Or a perfectly greaseless tempura and tonkatsu, savory, tangy dipping sauces, the perfect bowl of rice. A decadent crepe filled with mango gelato, watching live sumo from Japan on a bench under fake cherry blossoms. Nodding and bowing to ancient local ladies making incredible ikeban. Japantown does have it share of tourists but many Japanese-American people frequent its malls and it is truly a part of the community. I have fond memories of being babysat by my Japanese neighbors, eating nori and miso as a snack, watching Mighty Mouse in Japanese, no subtitles! Taking a Ikeban course with my sister via the local public community college television station. It’s not fancy, not Iron Chef (the orginal, naturally) but it is real food for real people.
map Post Street at Buchannan (5 minutes by taxi from BlogHer)
(photo courtesy of henryvolt on flickr)
9) Zuni Cafe. I had the pleasure of working near Zuni Cafe and dining there rather frequently. It still is close by and I do go there a few times a year. If you have read my blog before you will know I have an ongoing love affair with chicken. The Zuni Cafe roast chicken is the ultimate in chicken dining. My former boss and dear friend gave me Judy Rodger’s cookbook and because of poring slowly and lovingly over the pages now my roast chicken is a thing of perfection. I am sure Judy’s is better than my home cooked one, especially because that delicious bread salad is a complete pain in the tukas to make – I mean really! You need to use at least 9 pots and pans and my kitchen at The Roost is rather small, well, very very small. However they do not serve jellied cranberry sauce at Zuni and I know it is plebian of me but I need that cranberry sauce. Zuni’s burger is another wonderful lunch or dinner, and their oysters are perfection. If you need to put something on an oyster, let it be the Zuni mignonette sauce. I learned to drink Lillet Blanc there as an aperitif. And it is such a beautiful and unique space, you almost can overlook the grunginess of Market Street at that section. Just thinking about Zuni reminds me that I really need to roast another chicken this week….
10) Nick’s Crispy Taco’s at Underdog Sports Bar on Irving in the Sunset. I know this is not fine dining but it sure is an amazing taco. The Underdog is a really great little bar, normally I don’t feel really comfortable in a sports bar but this place I do. The usual overabundance of televisions and testosterone fueled men but the difference here is that Nick’s is here. All ages are welcome and you will see people of every age, happily eating delicious tacos with juice dripping down their elbows, drinking beer and passing along the housemade red and green spicy taco sauces among the convivial tables. On Tuesdays tacos are a $1 and beers are $2, so we invariably get about 6 per person. Well, 5 but that’s with a side order of amazing guacamole. Their carne asada and carnitas are exceptional. Their shredded sauced chicken is also wonderful but I like the meat so much better. I am tempted every time to take home the squirt bottle of the green sauce, and they won’t tell me the recipe, but I’m determined to worm it out of them one of these days. On a non Tuesday, a taco “Nick’s Way” is a crisp shell filled with meat, then a soft corn tortilla filled with beans sandwiched together and spackled neatly together with way too much guacamole. I mean really. And this is $5 and it’s hard to finish it. The bartenders are friendly and fun, and the regulars are nice people. The guys even eavesdropped in a kindly fashion when I explained how baseball works to a dear friend who had never watched a game in her life (can you imagine?). After we were done with our beer and tacos, one of the guys leaned over to me and said, “nice job with the baseball rules!” he encouraged my friend to see a live game and bought us another round. If I lived closer this would be a place I would come to hang out if I felt the need for company and a cold Pacifico, but I could always use a taco.
I hope while you are visiting my fair town for BlogHer that you try one of these nice humble places, or perhaps on a return visit. Great food here doesn’t have to cost triple digit prices, and I have barely scratched the surface with these choices. These are the places I go time and time again for those practical reasons. Now, if you have an unlimited budget and want a truly spectacular meal for one of those special occasion nights, please feel free to let me know and I would be happy to provide you with my “dream list” of dining options in San Francisco.
I look forward to meeting new friends later this month!